On Thursday, October 13th 2016, while on a train, slowly recovering from a pub-based night out, I had an idea!
The idea is to take a train somewhere (unspecified) for four hours, have lunch, then take another train home. The train would be my 90mph office with scenery for those four hours in each direction, and I’d get to enjoy lunch somewhere new. I’d do a full days work with the view out the window constantly changing.
Like this, but for a longer period, and at a reasonable speed.
I chatted about it over Telegram with my good friends Will and Stuart, then mostly forgot about it for two years. Every so often the idea would perculate in my head again, but I didn’t action anything.
In 2018, the idea came back to me, and I posted a little thread on Twitter. I’ll collate the posts here in this blog post, and expand on it below.
I'm very lucky to have a job where I an pretty much work from anywhere there's an Internet connection. For long chunks of the day I can probably even go without it, typing documentation, blog posts etc. But working from home means the same four walls all the time. A thread! ✍️— Alan Pope (@popey) August 7, 2018
I’m very lucky to have a job where I an pretty much work from anywhere there’s an Internet connection. For long chunks of the day I can probably even go without it, typing documentation, blog posts etc. But working from home means the same four walls all the time.
Sure, I could go and work in local coffee shops, or use a co-working space nearby, but I’d eventually end up still looking at mostly the same four walls. I sometimes go to our London office, and often work while I’m on the train. So I had an idea.
Why not use the train as an office, rather than a means of getting to the office?! Trains are great. Most have fairly comfy chairs, air con, desks. On some lines there’s power sockets, often decent enough WiFi. They also take you to new places!
My idea was, once in a while :-
- Look for destinations from my home town that take ~3-4 hr by train
- Spend the morning working on that train journey
- Stop for lunch and a walk at the destination
- Get back on the train and work all the way home again! Anyone tried this?
I think maybe one day a month is enough to test this out. Brighton looks like a good first destination on my journey. £28.50 off-peak day return. Might even get time to dip my toes in the sea while I’m there :)
I could go into London and out from another station, but I don’t like the idea of schlepping across town to other stations. Sounds too much like a real commute! :). Interested in hearing destinations suggestions for my new office journeys. Ideas for reducing ticket costs too!
I suspect I’d have to nope out of any online meetings on the day I’m travelling. Nobody on the train wants to hear me having hangouts/skype calls, and the other participants will quickly get narked if it drops a lot.
Train WiFi isn’t ubiquitous and sometimes drops/fails, so I can’t rely on that. I can however tether to my phone, or take a MiFi with me. Also, as I said, I can schedule a lot of ‘offline’ work that day.
Time to do it
The above was all posted back in 2018. From here down it’s modern thoughts, but not a lot has changed, aside from two job changes.
The idea has played on my mind over the years, but I’ve never actually done it. There are certainly challenges with it. All are solveable though, I think.
Train tickets can be expensive in the UK, if you’re a business commuter, buying tickets on the day of departure, or travelling towards a major city. If you book in advance and travel ‘off-peak’ then you can get better ticket prices. There’s an article about this by The Man in Seat 61 called UK & European train fares comparison….
From this we can conclude that I shouldn’t just rock up to the station and buy my ticket then and there, at during rush-hour. I should plan for a future date, and buy an Advance ticket. These require you to travel on the specific train for which you bought a ticket, and incur a cost to change the ticket.
I don’t have a fixed destination in mind. I essentially want to be on a train to somewhere for a few hours, then spend some time not on the train, then back on another train to work and get home.
If you know where you want to go on the train network, there’s plenty of websites and apps to plan the journey. However, if you’re planning a journey based on how long it takes to get somewhere, it’s a bit more complex. With some basic UK geography knowledge (or an online map) and some trial-and-error, it’s possible to find destinations to fit the criteria.
My initial idea was to head to Brighton as I already know this route. I would board the train at Farnborough North heading towards Guildford, change at Redhill, then head South towards Brighton via Gatwick Airport.
It takes around two hours to get there, with two or three changes of train. This initially felt like a good idea, but I was really after a longer period on the train, and fewer changes if possible.
Only one change of train, three hours each way, leaving after rush-hour, and arriving in time for lunch! This looks good!
I’m sure I’ll be able to find a cafe, coffee shop or pub to have a spot of lunch. Recommendations would be welcome!
Most trains in the UK in my area have some kind of WiFi network. It’s often pretty terrible, especially at rush-hour. But I’m not travelling during the rush! I will be going on a Friday, so the train WiFi may be congested with other people on a weekend getaway.
I will also have my phone with me, to which I can tether if required. When there’s coverage.
When I first came up with the idea, I worked at Canonical, and had meetings all through the week, including Friday. I’d rather not hold a Zoom call over potentially dodgy train WiFi or tethered to my phone. I’d also rather not be that guy on the train you can overhear, having those meetings.
Thankfully, my current employer Axiom have a “Zen Friday” policy. Described on our careers page as “We work normal hours but believe in giving everyone an extra day of quiet. Friday’s for us mean no Discord, no Slack, and no meetings!”
Thankfully there’s plenty of things that can be done offline, or mostly-offline, while zipping through the countryside. That includes:
- Planning for the next week
- Reviewing pull requests
- Writing documentation, blog posts or other content
- Thinking and ideation
Scheduling those tasks for a Friday when nobody else is about shouldn’t be difficult.
In the UK there’s currently ongoing disputes between the rail workers and their employers. So for some time now there have been strikes called by the various unions which adversely affect the rail network. To be clear, I fully support collective bargaining, and the workers right to withdraw their labour. So I won’t be complaining about this.
I will of course think about it as a possible risk for my ability to complete my journeys.
As I’m treating the train as my office, I should take my office things with me.
- Water bottle
Pretty standard stuff. A big battery will be helpful if there’s no mains outlet on the train.
Let’s do it
Advace tickets booked! I’m off to Exeter. More on this subject when it comes around.
I’d love to hear from anyone else who is going to do this.